Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on The Yards from the After Dark Neo-Noir Cinema Collection Two box set from Imprint Films. My review of The Yards is the first part of my multi-part review of this box set.
As a disclaimer of transparency for this episode of Feature Presentations, my review of The Yards comes from a review copy that Imprint Films provided for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
You don’t always recall when a film first enters your life. Memories have a way of skipping over many minuscule details, such as “when did I first hear about The Yards?” For some silly reason, I remember when The Yards first hit cinemas and my first experience with the film. I had just begun my first year of college; I was researching newspapers for a topic in class when I found myself drifting off, instead looking at the entertainment section. I scanned the movie section and saw a small advertisement for The Yards. I saw Mark Wahlberg and James Caan as part of the cast and wondered why I hadn’t heard about the film until now. It was playing on limited screens, nowhere near where I lived. I then moved on, pushing the movie out of my mind.
Cut to a few months later. I was working at a video store, and if I’m being honest, the most fun job I’ve had. One of the benefits of working at such a place is free rentals for myself. I would take home many movies and give them a spin. One night, The Yards came back into my life as I scanned the shelves, looking for new cinematic experiences. The idea of a crime film set in New York City with a talented cast spoke to me. I took the film home and—well, it sat on my DVD player for a week or so as I got sidetracked with other things. Eventually, I had to return the disc to my place of employment. I never watched the film. I suck.
Cut to 2022; Imprint Films closes out the end of the year with the second iteration of their After Dark box set. Who would have guessed that my old, unwatched nemesis would return? Having this collection at my disposal would be the third time that The Yards has entered my life. Would it be the charm?
Telling the tried and true tale of an ex-con looking to go straight, Mark Wahlberg‘s Leo teams up with his cousin Erica’s boyfriend, Willie, to work in the New York railyards under Erica’s stepfather, Frank. Soon, Leo understands that not all work within the railyards is legal, and he gets mixed up in a world of murder and corruption. It’s a dense and surprisingly small-scale story that works more than it doesn’t. The supporting cast of Joaquin Phoenix and James Caan holds the film together, and co-writer/director James Gray does well at bringing the audience into the railyards of pre-9/11 New York City. The film works but didn’t pull me in as much as I hoped.
The Yards is an unusual disc within the After Dark Collection Two set in that it’s the only film with two discs. Imprint Films includes the theatrical and director’s cuts, each with its own features. The majority of the film’s features are on the theatrical cut.
“Creating Authenticity” is a newly-recorded interview with director James Gray. Gray discusses using his father and a real-life scandal to help form the basis for The Yards. He continues by discussing the contrast in acting styles between the older and younger generations of actors and his battles with Miramax and Harvey Weinstein, who he refers to as “crazy.” Gray has a measured way of speaking, but I appreciated his discussions as he offered insight into the film and his thoughts on working in The Yards.
“Motherhood Through the Method” finds Ellen Burstyn discussing her life, career, and role in The Yards. While not as in-depth about Burstyn’s time in Hollywood as I expected, “Motherhood Through the Method” is still an excellent feature. Having Burstyn sit to discuss her approach to film and what she looks for in a role is a valuable interview for any cinephile. She is a Hollywood treasure, and seeing her full of life and speaking highly about film and The Yards is a treat from Imprint Films.
“Designing Queens” is an interview with production designer Kevin Thompson. Thompson briefly touches upon how he came up in Hollywood before transitioning to The Yards. He discusses how authenticity played a pivotal role in his designs, practically shot locations versus a set, and recounts an amusing story involving a background decoration and Faye Dunaway. As I feel that the production design is one of the film’s strong points, I found this to be an entertaining and detailed interview.
Tim Robey on The Yards is a discussion with the film critic analyzing themes and ideas. Robey draws parallels between the look and feel of The Yards and with 1970’s crime films of Francis Ford Coppola and Chinatown. Though he points out that director James Gray isn’t in alignment with such allusions. He also touches on how The Yards doesn’t play like louder crime films of the 1990s—ones in the shadow of Pulp Fiction. Robey also gets into Harvey Weinstein’s meddling in the film and how his request for a triumphant ending did not meld with James Gray’s vision. Robey brings plenty to the table, and this feature offers a welcome bit of analytic breakdown.
The featurette, “Visualizing The Yards,” is a sit down with James Gray and cinematographer Harris Savides going over watercolor storyboards created for the production of The Yards. As Savides passed away in 2012, this feature is a carryover from a past release. Even still, this is a fascinating piece, hearing how Gray and Savides worked to create a rich color palette. Most fascinating with “Visualizing The Yards” comes with multiple lighting tests showcasing how Gray and Savides worked to design the film’s lush lighting.
Imprint Films also included a behind-the-scenes featurette shot in promotion for the film’s theatrical release. While nothing vital comes from this feature, it offers plenty of production footage and interview snippets from the film’s stars and crew.
Imprint Films includes a roundtable discussion with Charlize Theron, Mark Wahlberg, James Caan, and James Gray. Shot about five years after the film’s production, the four sit together and discuss their time on set. The roundtable is structured weirdly: the four sit together in a blacked-out room with Gray moderating and the actors talking over each other. There are nuggets of valuable information sprinkled throughout the discussion. These include how Charlize Theron came up with her look, Mark Wahlberg using his previous life to get into his character, and James Caan learning that the preferred director’s cut will make its way onto DVD. Hearing James Caan discuss his many years in the industry and how he approaches acting is the most insightful, even if getting him to discuss acting takes more work than one might expect. I will say that at least James Caan appears less annoyed than he did on the features for Flesh & Bone.
Imprint Films includes eight deleted scenes with optional audio commentary from James Gray. None of the scenes are vital, including one that makes James Caan’s character more of a villain; most are simplistic story beats and rightfully excised. Gray’s comments work well to put the viewer into Gray’s mind to understand why he made such choices.
The disc closes out with the film’s theatrical trailer.
The director’s cut disc features two audio commentaries: one with James Gray and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and the second with Gray solo.
The Gray/Soderbergh track works well, as the two have a natural back-and-forth chemistry that makes the commentary pass at a clip with plenty of information provided. Gray discusses his working relationship with Harvey Weinstein, the differences in acting between the different generations of actors, and the differences between this and the theatrical cut. Hearing these two filmmakers discuss their craft is a commentary unlike most others. Gray and Soderbergh have different directing styles, and I find it fascinating listening to each’s opinion and questioning the choices the other makes.
James Gray’s solo track comes off a bit dry without having Steven Soderbergh on hand to bounce thoughts and opinions off. Thankfully, Gray does seem to enjoy talking, so there is plenty of information he works to dispense. The benefit of this track allows Gray to articulate what he wants to say, but the commentary also falls victim to long lapses of silence, wherein the film’s soundtrack doesn’t even pipe up to fill in these moments of pause. I’d say stick with the Gray/Soderbergh audio commentary and skip this one unless you need to hear every word James Gray has to say about The Yards.
And there you have it! While The Yards didn’t meet my (possibly lofty) expectations, it’s a solid watch with an exceptional cast and top-notch production. Imprint Films went above and beyond for such an underseen film by including both cuts, porting over features from the previous release, and adding a handful of new extras to compile a well-rounded and complete physical media package.